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201 dead, many trapped in Turkish coal mine



By DESMOND BUTLER and SUZAN FRASER

SOMA, Turkey (AP) - Rescuers struggled to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground early Wednesday after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 201 workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, at the time of the accident and 363 of them had been rescued so far.

At least 80 miners were injured, including four who were in serious condition, Yildiz told reporters in Soma, as he oversaw the rescue operation involving more than 400 rescuers.

The accident occurred when the workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside the mine than usual.

Yildiz said the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and feared the death toll could end up much higher than the latest count of 201 workers.

The rescue effort is "reaching a critical stage," Yildiz said, with more deaths likely as time passes.

Earlier, the minister said the rescue operations were hindered because the mine had not completely been cleared of gas.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.

Nurettin Akcul, a mining trade union leader, told HaberTurk television that Turkey was likely facing its worst mining accident ever.

"Time is working against us. We fear that the numbers could rise further," Yildiz said. "We have to finish this (rescue operation) by dawn. I have to say that our pain, our trouble could increase."

Earlier Yildiz said some of the workers were 420 meters (460 yards) deep inside the mine. News reports said the workers could not use lifts to get out of the mine because the explosion had caused a power cut.

Television footage showed people cheering and applauding as some trapped workers emerged out of the mine, helped by rescuers, their faces and hard-hats covered in soot. One wiped away tears on his jacket, another smiled, waved and flashed a "thumbs up" sign at onlookers.

Dozens of ambulances ferried back and forth bodies and the injured extracted from the mine and rescue workers were massed at the entrance of the mine on a hill side. Family members at the scene pleaded for news of their loved ones.

One woman threw herself on the ground, crying after hearing about the death of a loved one, HaberTurk television showed. There were tears of joy for another who told the station she had just spoken by telephone to a missing relative.

Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away.

Authorities had earlier said that the blast left between 200 to 300 miners underground and made arrangements to set up a cold storage facility to hold the corpses of miners recovered from the site.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed a one-day visit to Albania scheduled for Wednesday and planned to visit Soma instead.

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, said the accident occurred despite the "highest safety measures and constant controls" and added that an investigation was being launched.

"Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones," the company said in a statement.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions.

Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

____

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Berza Simsek in Soma contributed.

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Kurtis Erikson May 14 2014 at 2:01 AM

Mining has always been a difficult and dangerous profession. I'm surprised that they had such a large workforce in the mine. I would have thought that technology would have reduced the need for so many workers to be put at risk. Anyway, my heart goes out to these hard working and brave men and their families.

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1 reply
Joebudgie Kurtis Erikson May 14 2014 at 5:25 AM

This happened in Turkey not the U.S., Canada, or England where modern machinery is not only available but used. In Turkey it's pretty much picks and shovels making a large work force necessary.

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Julie May 13 2014 at 8:45 PM

Very heartbreaking. So many lives lost. So many families are hurting over this and a whole town will feel this huge loss.

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mhagerinteriors May 13 2014 at 8:40 PM

My Grandfather died in a coal mine. They brought his clothes to my Grandma's house. She had to leave Nemacolin, PA, and travel to southern California to start life over. My Mother, the oldest child watched the other kids while Grandmas went to CA. I just totally respect my Grandfather for going into the mines to support his kids. God bless him in Heaven.

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Patty May 13 2014 at 8:10 PM

Fire the safety inspector! How can you let that many people work in unsafe conditions? It's inhuman. I will pray for the less fortunate, eh tu?

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1 reply
junior Patty May 13 2014 at 8:16 PM

Happens all the time right here in the US. 2 dead today in West Virginia from a company with a history of safety violations. The gulf oil spill were workers went to work everyday while their inept useless lawyers fought in court to NOT HAVE TO FIX any of the over 700 VIOLATIONS on that platform. So please complain about the ones right here instead of saying that others are inhumane.

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4 replies
Dennis Dionisio May 13 2014 at 8:04 PM

very sad....

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Shelby May 13 2014 at 7:53 PM

Prayers for these miners and their families. What a terrible catastrophe.

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crazyporscheguy May 13 2014 at 7:35 PM

King Insane Onut-job you need to go over there and tell them how they don`t need coal like you did over here O-King Insane Obozo

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buddhaaaaa May 13 2014 at 7:24 PM

This just in from Fox ...
It's Obama's fault.

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5 replies
Charlene May 13 2014 at 7:22 PM

"Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions." Sad. I do hope they can get the rest out safely.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
I LOVE YOU JENNY May 13 2014 at 6:42 PM

Very sad!!!!!!!!

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